Sadrists and Sex Orgies
See, I thought long and hard about writing about this topic, since it may smut-‘tify’ Talisman Gate, but I think it is relevant: it demonstrates just how much the Sadrist movement is actually a symptom of a weird cult that’s sprung up in Najaf.
Before reading any further, kindly go through this post that I had written back in May 2006 about the so-called Sulukiyya sect—very relevant to what is to come.
I found this most recent fatwa (dated November 25, 2005), where Muqatada al-Sadr signs off on Mahdi Army-sponsored sex orgies, posted on a jihadist website that is very much anti-Shi'a. It was being used by the jihadists to demonstrate the supposed depravity of all Shi'as. Apparently a picture of the fatwa has been floating around jihadist websites for several months now, but this is the first I see of it. Given the source, the document would be highly suspect—someone may be trying to libel the Sadrists. However, the wording of Sadr’s fatwa seems authentic and in keeping with the usual style employed in such matters. It also bears his seal. However, all this can be concocted by a jihadist (…or a Hakim follower) with some reasonable knowledge of writing up Shi'a fatwas and with Photoshop. But given what I’ve heard about the Sulukiyya sect, I am inclined to believe that it is authentic.
The fatwa was covered by the Saudi-owned alarabiya.net (I don’t know if it was carried on its TV programming—doubt it) on December 5, 2006, and in it the Sadrists vehemently deny the fatwa’s authenticity on the grounds that Muqtada does not have the clerical seniority to issue fatwas (this is false, he has issued plenty of ‘instructions’ that carry the weight of fatwas among his followers), and that muta’a (see below for definition) rules cannot apply under any legal frameworks to group orgies. This makes sense since the offspring of muta’a marriages are considered legitimate, and there are strict rules to match pregnancies to husbands even if the temporary marriage would have lasted but a few hours. However, in practice, muta’a marriages are a form of prostitution and ‘rules’ fly out the window where there’s money to be made. The Sadrist naysayer quoted in the Arabiya piece also implies that this was produced by someone trying to tarnish the Mahdi Army and to foment dissent between Muqtada and another leading rival cleric, al-Ya’aqoubi (see below).
But even with this denial, the fatwa still seems plausible to me: it would be something that Muqtada would author if he were indeed influenced by the Sulukiyya sect as I’ve been told, and as is heavily rumored among the mainstream clerics in Najaf. But still, the strongest case lending this fatwa to being a forgery would be that it does not deal with the issue of who fathers the offspring.
Here’s my translation, with explanations in italics and parentheses:
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,
His Benevolence hujjet al-islam wel muslimeen [Ed.: clerical rank below that of Ayatollah] the mujahid Seyyid Muqtada al-Sadr (Honored by Allah):
[Dear] mujahid Seyyid, May Allah Preserve You:
We are a group of Zaynebite [Ed.: in Arabic, zaynebiyyat, in reference to Zaynab bint ‘Ali, daughter of the patron saint of Shi’ism, Imam Ali, through his wife, Fatima al-Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Zaynab was the most senior member of Muhammad’s family to survive the massacre at Karbala, and she was turned into an iconic female figure in early Shi’ism. Her popularity is reflected in the number of alleged burial tombs that she has; one in Cairo, another in Medina, and yet a third south of Damascus] devotees who support the Mahdi Army (‘May Allah Hasten the Advent of the Mahdi’) and we would like to ask Your Benevolence, hujjet al-islam wel muslimeen, Seyyid Muqtada al-Sadr, May Allah Preserve him, about an invitation extended to us by the [Mahdi Army] to attend a [group sex orgy] [Ed.: in Arabic, haflet muta’ah jama’iyyeh, with ‘muta’ah,’ literally meaning ‘pleasure,’ being the accepted practice of temporary marriage in Shi'a Islam; whereby a marriage is set for a temporary period of time and for a fixed dowry, and does not need the consent of parents if the wife is not a virgin. Any issue or progeny from the marriage is considered legitimate offspring] at a certain husseiniya [Ed.: a Shi'a place of worship and ritual]. And they said that the [spiritual] bonus of a [sex orgy] is seventy times as much as an individual muta’a. We consulted one of the seyyids [Ed.: descendants of Muhammad] who represents Sheikh Muhammad al-Ya’aqoubi [Ed.: the followers of Muqtada’s father split among the majority that continues to support Muqtada, and a minority that supports Sheikh Ya’aqoubi, who is the spiritual head of the Fadhila Party, which controls two dozen seats in parliament)] about [sex orgies] but he denied knowing anything about this type of muta’a and said that it is an innovation [Ed.: the usual connotation of an ‘innovation,’ bida’a,' is negative]. Is it lawful to have [sex orgies]? Given that it is limited to several hours only (that is, less than one night), and the purpose of this orgy is to fulfill the desires of the Mahdi Army, specifically of those who cannot [find] intercourse due to the distraction of doing battle with the nawasib [Ed.: derogatory Shi'a term for Sunnis, connoting hostility to the progeny of Muhmmad], and that the revenue from this [orgy] will go towards providing the Mahdi Army with arms. Answer us may Allah reward you with the best of rewards.
Azhar Hassan al-Fartousi
On behalf of a group of Zaynebites
17 Shawwal 1426 [Ed.: November 19, 2005]
In His Blessed Name
It is known that the muta’a marriage is blessedly accepted in our creed and the nawasib have tried to make us skeptical about it and to bar us from it; for fear that the sons of our sect will increase [in number] and we may become a mighty force, therefore we call upon the children of our creed not to be discomfited by anything to do with muta’a marriage. Holding [sex orgies] is one of the matters that have been made allowable by our higher authorities but by taking due notice that no non-Muslims are allowed to enter, along with laypersons, into those orgies so as not to view the taboos of our [female] devotees; and that is probably why the seyyid [who speaks for] al-Ya’aqoubi frowns upon it. That said, it is [also] known that having muta’a with one of the soldiers of the [Mahdi Army] is more [spiritually] beneficial than [having it] with others because [the soldier] is sacrificing his blood for the advent of the [Mahdi] therefore we ask the Zaynebites not to be stingy with what Allah has given them by way of physical attributes and money. We ask our sister the Zaybebite to refer to one of our [official] representatives to seek permission to hold these [orgies] so that they would be under the strict supervision and control by the [Mahdi Army]. May Allah reward you the best of rewards.
[Sealed with Muqtada al-Sadr’s official seal]
[Signed, Muqtada al-Sadr]
[Dated:] 23 Shawwal 1426 [Ed.: 25 November 2005]
Now we have all this talk in Washington and Baghdad about the need to confront the Mahdi Army militias and their death squads. I’ve recently written about the fragmentation of the Mahdi Army, as well as some bizarre cases of members who were originally Sunni or Ba’athist.
It is important to remember that the Muqtada al-Sadr movement is an aberration in Shi’ism, but that such aberrations are nothing new. There is an inner circle around Muqtada that has seriously convinced itself that the Mahdi, or Messiah, is about to emerge out of occultation, and that the Mahdi could either be Muqtada himself (I mentioned this here once; Muqtada’s father would be the nafs al-zekiyya in this line of thinking) or that Muqtada is one of the ‘signs’ of this messianic advent. We’ve seen this multiple times in every era of Shi'a history; the last major disturbance was the Babi movement of Seyyid Ali Muhammad al-Shirazi in 1844-1850, who seized upon the embitterment of the Sheykhi faction of Shi’ism (…more mystical in its approach to religious texts; lost out to the Usuli school of scriptural interpretation, which is more literal in its methodology and reigns supreme in Najaf and Qum to this day) to unleash a messianic movement that spread throughout Iran and Iraq, and eventually morphed into the Baha’i faith.
Moreover, this business of sex orgies has been around as a ready epithet against Shi'as and all heterodox Muslim sects for a long time. Sunni orthodoxy has always employed this accusation to highlight the alleged depravity of Shi'as: in Ottoman times, the Kizilbash were denounced as ‘mumsondu’—literally, ‘the candle is out’—in reference to the rite, which still survives among Turkey’s Alevis, of putting out three lit candles at the end of the cem (the Alevi form of prayer where Shi'a symbols are employed but not proper Islamic prayers) ritual. Because cem rituals feature men and women praying and dancing together, the imagination of Sunnis led them to believe that the communal gathering would break out into an orgy after the candles are out. Modern Sunni Turks still believe the Alevis are ‘mumsondu.’ I attended two cem rituals this summer, but alas, no orgies.
The same accusation has been made against the Nusayris/‘Alawites of Syria and Turkey’s Hatay province, even though this sect does not perform anything like the cem ritual. The accusation here has more to do with the pre-Islamic fertility cults that were dominant along the interior of the Mediterranean coast: in Hatay, this was centered around the temple complex at the waterfalls of Daphne, now situated in the town of Harbiyye, where the temple ‘nuns’ would offer their sexual services for the pleasure of the paying ‘supplicants,’ and the money would go towards the upkeep of the shrine. The town of Harbiyye and the surrounding mountain villages are exclusively Nusayri/Alawite. Note: I went there this summer too, and no orgies either. Strike two.
My favorite ‘there’s-no-smoke-without-a-fire’ echo of this accusation concerns the temple of ‘Afqa at the very top of the Nahr Ibrahim valley in Lebanon. This temple was dedicated to the Greek deity Adonis, who has other Levantine and Egyptian manifestations and was worshipped under different names. Myth had it that ‘Afqa was the site where Adonis was slain by a wild boar, and the stream (especially the one emerging from the nearby spring in the village of Mugheiriya) turns red every Spring. That has more to do with the increased torrent of the water after the rain season (which churns out reddish mud) than with any mythical magic, but that didn’t really matter to the religious pilgrims who followed a route along the northern ridge of the Nahr Ibrahim valley dotted with ‘way’ shrines. The 'nuns' at the temple of Afqa employed the same set-up as at the waterfalls of Daphne: sex for alms. The Byzantines tried to stamp out this cult, but it apparently stuck. Then Islam came along, and the villages, especially in the vicinity, took up some Islamic symbols, specifically Shi'a ones, to mask their pagan faith (…this is my theory, at least). But afterwards the Mamlukes of Syria—who were fired up by the Damascene religious fanatic Ibn Taymiyya—ran expeditions into the mountains of Kisrawan seven hundred years ago, and massacred many crypto-Shi'as; most of the survivors headed east and settled the harder-to-defend Beka’a Valley (…where they remain today). These depopulated mountainous areas that were left behind were soon taken up with the expanding Christian Maronite communities to the north around the Qadisha Valley (…who now claim Kisrawan as their heartland).
But here’s the interesting thing: the village of Afqa is still 100 percent Shi'a today. Most of the villages along the northern pilgrimage route are still majority Shi'a or with large Shi'a minorities (living among Maronites). There are Shi'a pockets nearby in all Maronite country. The history of human spirituality shows than people can remain very sentimental about holy places; Shi’ism may have survived in these villages after the Mamluke massacres because the villagers may still have been attached to their pagan roots (…and the money that would have been generated in the olden times from pilgrims). My own theory is that prior to becoming mainstream Shi’as, these villages would have believed in something akin to what some of the surviving ‘Alawite sects in Syria adhere to, but then would have come under the influence of the mainstream Shi'a centers of learning in Jabal ‘Amil, in southern Lebanon. Ahem, ahem, no orgies in Afqa either, or at least none when I went exploring last spring. Damn you jihadists and your misleading and outdated propaganda about Shi'a orgies!
Could those aforementioned Zaynebites be the latter-day priestesses of Afqa and Daphne? I know, I know: it's a stretch. But the jihadists who are cross-posting Muqtada's fatwa on their sites certainly seem to think so.
So in conclusion, weirder things have happened in Shi'a history, and similar accusations have been made, way before the publication of this alleged fatwa being attributed to Muqtada. The rumors about the Sulukiyya cult ring true, and one needs to view the Sadrists as a historical aberration—albeit one with Kalashnikovs, cell phones, websites, and cabinet ministries. They will survive as a weird, marginal sub-sect of Shi’ism, and will be remain nuisance for the mainstreamers of Najaf. But that’s about it: they are a nuisance, and not a real threat. Which means that their growth potential is limited. Which means that they can be isolated and confronted. Which means now.